Three passages from Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet:
In a 1963 Warner Brothers cartoon featuring Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog – originally created by Chuck Jones (in 1953) then remade by ex-Jones animators Phil Monroe and Richard Thompson – a wolf and a sheepdog share a companionable dailiness and friendship involving coffee together in the morning and a return home arm in arm at the end of the day. In between, of course, they assume their roles as enemies: the sheepdog guards the flock, while the wolf devises numerous stratagems to steal the sheep, foiled at every turn by a seemingly dopey yet powerful and alert guard dog. The cartoon, with its reference to the workaday world, cleverly points to the human cultural roles within which dog and wolf are forced to play out their opposed roles and marks as capital the framework for their opposition. There is an invisible boss and a system within which they must perform: someone – presumably human – owns the flock, and both are employed in its maintenance and devastation. The cartoon is knowing and innovative in that it remarks on the “insiderness” to human culture of the wolf – he is supposed to try to try to steal the sheep, although, in this fort-da of mastery and triumph over trauma, he will never succeed. Instead, his actions confirm and reconfirm the superior agency of the human creation: the sheepdog. Not matter how much the thief tries to bring down the empire, he is foiled. Part of the critique this cartoon offers is to assert that the economic system of private property and primitive accumulation requires an enemy.
– Carla Freccero, Wolf, or Homo Homini Lupus
The study of collective behavior so far has focused on identifying the algorithms, or rules, that connect individuals to produce outcomes for the group. There are unresolved philosophical questions about what it means to understand collective behavior. Biologists have struggled for centuries between two alternatives, a struggle that continues because both alternatives are incorrect. One option is that each individual, ant or cell, is working independently off an internal program, currently envisaged as a sort of computer program contained in, created, and carried out by genes, and that all of these independent actions add up to make the organism, or colony, or tissue. The other is that there is another entity at the level of the whole system, such as the embryo, or superorganism, that somehow drives the relations among the individual entities. We need to develop new language and sets of metaphors that avoid both of these alternatives and instead describe collective behaviour as a tangle of overlapping connections that is constantly being created, without any locus of control.
– Deborah M. Gordon, Without Planning: The Evolution of Collective Behaviour in Ant Colonies
In Kupny’s lifetime, Soviet socialist modernization delivered a great deal. It put an end to illiteracy, epidemics, and famine, while cleaning up daily life with indoor plumbing, public bathhouses, and central heating. Socialism also enriched life with pensions, paid vacations, affordable housing, free health care and education, and an impressive network of libraries, theatres, concert halls, and clubs. The socialist state lavished this attention foremost on trained, urban, blue-collar workers like Kupny, while outwardly focusing political rhetoric on equality and the ascendance of the working class. The contrasts in 2014 with the past were stark. In postsocialist, post-shock-capitalism society, working classes have been left in chronic poverty and joblessness, while pensions have evaporated, paid vacations are a nostalgic memory, and equality – well, no one thinks about equality anymore. On this panorama, the achievements of the Soviet technocratic planning state look better and better.
– Kate Brown, Marie Curie’s Fingerprint: Nuclear Spelunking in the Chernobyl Zone